16-year-olds old enough to decide on gender ID change, education secretary suggests

‘I could make decisions for myself at 16’, says Gillian Keegan

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 17 January 2023 19:04 GMT
16-year-olds old enough to decide gender ID change, education secretary suggests

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has suggested that she believes 16-year-olds are old enough to decide to change their gender identity – as a political row deepened about Westminster’s plans to block reforms passed in Scotland.

Rishi Sunak’s government said it would block a gender self-identification law passed in Scotland, a move branded by Nicola Sturgeon as a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish parliament.

The bill passed at Holyrood would lower the age Scots can apply for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) from 18 to 16, as well as removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Asked if she thought 16 was too young to make such a decision, Ms Keegan told Sky News: “No, I don’t think so. I was working at 16, I was paying tax at 16. I could make decisions for myself at 16.”

The cabinet minister added: “But it’s not really about what I think – it’s about how we make sure we get that right balance in supporting children but also making sure what they are getting taught in schools is age appropriate.”

The education secretary denied she disagreed with Mr Sunak or the government’s stance in the trans rights row on gender self-identification – pointing to a government consultation on the issue.

However, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman later said: “We consulted on that issue and set out the position that 18 is the correct age for transgender people to change their sex ... [Ms Keegan] made clear herself that she was talking about her own personal standpoint.”

The UK government is preparing for a legal clash after Scottish secretary Alister Jack confirmed he will make an order – under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 – to block reforms passed by Holyrood.

Mr Jack claimed the laws, which simplify the process for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC), could have “chilling effects on single-sex spaces” for women and warned of “significant complications” from having different processes for obtaining a GRC in different parts of the UK.

The bill has seen divisive debate in Scotland
The bill has seen divisive debate in Scotland (PA Wire)

Tory splits have opened up in the row, with the moderate Tory Reform Group describing the Sunak government’s move as “a deeply concerning development”.

“The UK government has not only played into the hands of those who seek to break our union, but also exposed how lacking its own equalities agenda has become,” said the group – which boasts senior figures like Damian Green and Robert Buckland as patrons.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been among those to acknowledge concerns about the plan, saying he considers 16 too young to decide to change gender.

He suggested that both the SNP and the Tories were trying to use the gender recognition bill for political advantage by creating constitutional and culture war clashes.

Ms Sturgeon said she believes the decision to block the bill will “inevitably end up in court”, while her social justice secretary, Shona Robison, said it was a “dark day” for transgender people and for Scottish democracy.

In an emergency House of Commons debate on the issue, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn labelled some Conservative MPs “rabid gammon” after they heckled a colleague, while Labour MP Rosie Duffield criticised male party colleagues and said she had been “shouted down”.

Ms Duffield said on Twitter afterwards: “Being shouted down in the Chamber by @UKLabour men who clearly don’t want women to speak up for our rights to single sex spaces. How very progressive.”

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on Scotland and equalities, told MPs: “I have to say I am disappointed in the government of the United Kingdom that they have taken this clearly inappropriate opportunity to stage a constitutional crisis, a constitutional confrontation, with the Scottish parliament.”

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